Christopher Nolan sends chilling, powerful message with a masterpiece in Oppenheimer 

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — For the past seven decades, we have lived in what has been called “the Atomic Age.” Since the detonation of the first nuclear weapon in Los Alamos, New Mexico on July 16, 1945, the world has existed in a time when human beings have gained the ability to destroy themselves. The specter of nuclear war came to light when America dropped two nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II. The man credited (and often blamed) for this is J. Robert Oppenheimer. 

“I view Oppenheimer as the most important person who ever lived,” said Director Christopher Nolan ahead of the release of his biographical film titled Oppenheimer. Describing the story of the theoretical physicist and organizer of the Manhattan Project as, “one of the biggest stories imaginable,” Christopher spent the better part of the last three years trying to bring that story to life. The result is a movie that delves into the title character’s background, his motivations, his faults, his mindset, and his trepidation for the world that he helped usher in. 

Multiple timelines 

The film revolves around different periods of time, mostly surrounding J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy): as a young man attending university in Cambridge in the 1920s, being grilled in a security hearing in 1954, mostly around the period he was brought on to oversee the Manhattan Project in the 1940s, and the confirmation hearings regarding Oppenheimer foe Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey, Jr.)  appointment as Secretary of Commerce in 1958.  


At these various points in time, Oppenheimer comes into contact with several significant historical figures. These interactions help shape the man “Oppie” becomes while he himself inadvertently places his stamp on history. 

Oppenheimer’s introduction to Danish physicist Niels Bohr (Kenneth Branagh) and his dislike for laboratory work lead him to leave Cambridge for the University of Gottingen. He is also introduced to other brilliant minds of the time, albeit with questionable associations with Communism. These include his lover Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh) and his future wife Kitty Puening (Emily Blunt).  

Engineer and military colonel Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) approaches Oppenheimer to create a laboratory where a nuclear bomb can be built and tested, settling on a site in New Mexico. They then proceed to tap the most brilliant minds in the scientific community to create what Oppie terms “the gadget,” racing against the Russians to bring an end to the war. 

Nearly a decade after the war’s conclusion, Strauss of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) has been nominated to be US Secretary of Commerce. Facing a senate inquiry regarding his appointment, Strauss recalls his own contentious history with Oppenheimer. Strauss’ personal dislike for Oppenheimer only grew in the years they had known each other, and this leads to a virtual witch hunt when the latter’s security clearance was in danger of being revoked. 

The director’s best to date? 

Christopher has proven over the past two decades to be one of the leading filmmakers of this century. He releases a film every two or three years, and as his name has grown, these films have been eagerly anticipated by the moviegoing audience. Following the controversial release of Tenet during the early days of the pandemic, Nolan left Warner Bros. for Universal and total creative control. The result is this, his 12th film. 

While he has directed a true story before in 2017’s Dunkirk, and has done commercially successful and popular films like The Prestige, Inception, and The Dark Knight trilogy, it can now be argued that Oppenheimer is actually his most important film to date. As such, he chose to shoot the entire film using IMAX cameras for a few reasons. 

“We knew that by telling Oppenheimer’s story in IMAX, that we’d get the incredible landscapes of New Mexico. We’d get the storms coming in, we’d get the Trinity test build-up which had to be the showstopper of the movie,” Christopher said in an interview.  

“But the other thing that (cinematographer) Hoyte (van Hoytema) and myself are excited about doing was, what does IMAX apply to? The idea of getting in someone’s head. What’s it like taking that giant format and filming the intimate moments? The moments just between two characters or multiple characters, looking into their eyes so you’re in the room with these actors. I sort of refer to it as 3D without the glasses.” 

Beyond the format choice, the combination of Christopher’s direction and screenplay, van Hoytema’s cinematography, the musical score of Ludwig Goransson, and the assembled cast make Oppenheimer an early favorite for next year’s 96th Academy Awards.  

Cillian and RDJ are early awards favorites 

As the sixth Christopher picture that he has been part of, Oppenheimer marks the first time Cillian is placed in the lead role. For fans of his six-season run as British gangster Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders, Cillian had already shown himself more than capable of carrying a television show.  

Placing him front and center as the man who ushered in the Atomic Age, Cillian goes across the emotional spectrum over the course of three hours. From envisioning spaces between atoms to frustration over his tutors all the way to callousness over a love affair and the overriding guilt brought on by the weapon he helped turn into reality.  

For his part, it’s a welcome change to see RDJ flexing his acting muscles again outside of Tony Stark’s Iron Man armor. People tend to forget that prior to first donning the armor in 2008’s Iron Man, RDJ was already acclaimed for his acting. He earned an Oscar nomination for playing comedy legend Charlie Chaplin in 1992’s Chaplin, and his work on both the big and small screen made him a star. 

It’s perhaps ironic, then, that another biopic this time around reminds the world just how good an actor he still is. RDJ’s Strauss is an ambitious, petty, manipulative politician who does not forget the sleights committed against him, no matter how long it takes to gain a measure of revenge. It would not be a stretch to see either or both actors earning acting nominations from the different award-giving bodies leading into next year. 

A stellar cast to tell this tale 

Aside from these two, Emily, Matt, Florence, Kenneth, Jason, Josh Hartnett as Ernest Lawrence, Casey Affleck as Boris Pash, David Krumholtz as Isidor Isaac Rabi, Dane DeHaan as Kenneth Nichols, and the other heavy hitters in this amazing cast leave no stone unturned as far as acting goes. It is a testament to the respect that Christopher’s reputation has achieved, as well as the excellence of his script that several of these headliners were willing to take smaller roles just to be part of the film. 

Movie audiences have been very fortunate in recent weeks to have so many good movies to choose from. While classic explorers first introduced 40 years ago, transforming robots set in the 1990s, and impossible spies on their seventh onscreen global adventure have all been fun to see, none of these can provoke as much serious thought and discussion as Christopher’s latest oeuvre.  

Oppenheimer may not be for everyone to see, but that does not diminish this film’s importance or the director’s achievement in making it happen by any means. It easily stands out among its contemporaries and, this early, could be on the minds of award-giving bodies in the months to come. 

Oppenheimer is now showing in Philippine cinemas. 

Partner with adobo Magazine

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Back to top button